What is Academic Writing? Part Three

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In this series of posts, I’d like to think about student responses to a first day writing sample that asked “What is academic writing?” (broadly, of course, for IRB-related reasons).  Though the sample size is really quite small I think these students nevertheless reveal some of what many students bring to our classrooms. One of the things that students bring, represented in many of the responses, is a particular understanding of the form of academic writing, an understanding created through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) or (more specifically) the FCAT, Florida’s mechanism for complying with that federal legislation. These responses were easy to spot because they emphasized not just the form of academic writing but a very specific form—and a very formulaic one.  The students who presented this view of academic writing indicated that it has an introduction, a conclusion, and a thesis. I’m not sure how to feel about this grouping.  The overall tripartite construction, broadly speaking, applies to the kind of writing we ask students to do in our writing courses.  But I am concerned about how that preconceived notion of form might limit students and how it might even block them from writing well or writing at all. I don’t want to open the NCLB can of worms here, but I'm wondering about the experiences of other teachers.  Do tests like the FCAT do anything at all to prepare students for your classroom?  Are they a start?  Or are they a hindrance?  Do we building on what students learned in high school?  Or do we tear it down?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.